Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Uprooting Weeds, by Devorah Brous

On Thursday, March 11th, 2004, Bedouin fields were sprayed with Monsanto's toxic Roundup for the seventh time in 2 years as the Israel Lands Authority sent a fleet of planes to 'redeem' land near Mitzpe Ramon, in Abde and in Qatamat, unrecognized villages in the Southern Negev. In such cases, the State has rendered Bedouin cultivation of unused desert expanse, illegal. Twice in February, fruit trees (olives and dates) were uprooted from Bedouin villages, each time some 50 trees. Below please find an article analyzing this policy of uprooting, and destroying food crops. Bustan is collecting any information on crop-spraying operations around the world as a tactic to gain state control over lands.

In spite of Israel's depleted economy, the price of bread has recently been hiked up. In response, several NGO's are packing trucks with baskets of bread to distribute among hungry families up north and in neighborhoods throughout the country, as families can't afford to purchase bread or flour. Meanwhile, down south in the Negev desert Israeli authorities are destroying fields of wheat with toxic chemicals.

Zionism is the political process of creating and maintaining a Jewish majority in the Holy Land. Through the Zionist campaigns of the Jewish National Fund, Israel's successful settlement project to 'redeem a barren wasteland' is known worldwide. The process of Judaizing Israel's landscape is in response to the demographic threat of becoming an ethnic minority. It involves expanding Jewish territorial control over the maximum amount of land and breaking Arab territorial contiguity. Today, Sharon's government is waging a covert war to settle the next frontier by disrupting one of the country's most heavily concentrated

Arab areas: the Negev

This administrative war involves measures such as house demolitions and fumigation of food crops in the Bedouin sector to cleanse land that's been expropriated and reserve it for future Jewish use. While Sharon aims to 'redeem' lands that are not barren--justifying all activities as vital for the future of the Jewish State, such measures endanger the vitality and future of the State, as well as its present.

Bleak Background

Most Negev Bedouin fled, or were dispossessed from their lands after the 1948 War. In the early days of statehood the remaining 11,000 Bedouin were placed under military rule until 1966, and relocated to the already populated Siyag reservation][1] into villages that to this day are unrecognized by the Israeli government. This maneuver enabled the authorities to expropriate the lands inhabited by Bedouin throughout the Negev.

In the late 1960s, the officials began building the 7 Bedouin Planned Townships to further sedentarize and contain the bedouin. Provision of basic amenities (water, health care, and electricity) was and still is contingent upon Bedouin relinquishing their land claims. Just less than ½ the Bedouin population (65,000)[2] has agreed to these terms and moved into Recognized Townships, which today have the lowest socio-economic ranking in the country. The contiguity of Bedouin land tracts in the reservation is split by some of the wealthiest Jewish suburbs. Hence, the gap between Bedouin and their Jewish neighbors is no less than staggering.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The land war between the ILA and the Bedouin farmers has now moved inside the Siyag, in both recognized townships and unrecognized villages, in attempt to further contain this population, and extricate more Negev lands from Arab grasp. In many cases, the State has rendered Bedouin cultivation of unused desert expanse illegal for Bedouin. Land cultivated with food crops has been poisoned with toxic chemicals seven times over the past 2 years. Warnings are not issued to Bedouin villagers allowing them time to clear their children and animals from the vicinity before a fleet of Israel Land Authority (ILA) planes begin their operation to 'redeem land. The ILA maintains the Bedouin are guilty of trespassing State land. Their unannounced campaign was initiated in 2002, with toxic spraying operations occurring at random intervals.

ILA/ Green Patrol operations Date Amount of Cultivated Land Destroyed[3]

Food Crop

1st February 2002 12,000 dunams[4] wheat, barley
2nd March 2nd, 2003 1,000 dunams wheat, barley
3rd April 2nd, 2003 5,000 dunams lentil, barley, wheat fields
4th June 17th, 2003 1,500 dunams melons, wheat, corn
5th Jan. 15th, 2004 4,000 dunams wheat, barley, olive saplings
6th Feb.10th, 2004 3,500 dunams wheat 7th March 11th, 2004 3,500 dunams wheat, barley

For the Bedouin tribe of El Turi in the unrecognized village of Al Araqeeb, some 1,400 dunams of wheat crops were fumigated during the sixth ILA operation that directly affects their crops. Outrage tears through Al Araqeeb Village. Salah Abu Midi'an explains, "The spraying attack was done without giving us any advance notice. With a force of some 150 police, border guards, and green patrol, the planes circled above our fields at 10:30AM and turned green into yellow."

Why is El Turi's land coveted by the state authorities? Two reasons. First, it seems this land is too close to where the Jewish neighborhoods near the new settlement 'Giv'ot Bar' will be built and expanded as part of Sharon's Development Plan. For several years, the El Turi clan has engaged in the process of substantiating their claims over the now poisoned land. In an interview with representative Ahmad Abu Midi'an he stated, "We respect the law. We just want the law to respect us." Second, El Turi were moved off their lands at Araqeeb village and into the municipal boundaries of Rahat Township. Due to the impoverished conditions in the town, in 1995 they gave up and returned to their lands. According to Dr. Isaac (Yanni) Nevo from the Negev Coexistence Forum, "The conditions are reprehensible in the Townships. There is simply no available opportunity for them to develop, so they are beginning to leave. Perhaps the State is threatened by Bedouin breaking out of the fence of containment, and evidencing it is porous."

The spokesperson for the ILA, Ortal Tsabar, stated the chemical used to spray the agricultural fields is Monsanto's Roundup, a toxic defoliant used to kill weeds. The ILA maintains this herbicide doesn't harm animals or people; however small organic farmers, health professionals, and activists world-wide maintain otherwise. The active chemical found in RoundUp, glyphosate, has been identified as a cancer-causing agent, and a known hormone-disruptor causing increased birth defects in humans. The agro-chemical Monsanto Corporation, producer of Roundup, warns ocnsumers: after spraying on windless days, people and animals are to avoid the affected area for two weeks. To date, no Bedouin has been warned to stay off their lands for two weeks following an operation. The ILA finds it sufficient to bring police and an ambulance, and close the area off during the operations. Tsabar discloses, "Its only fluid, not a gas. We take all the necessary precautions."[5] The indiscriminate wind drifts resulting from aerial application has carried the defoliant much further than perhaps even the authorities had planned, subsequently affecting people, fields and third parties in a significant radius from a spraying site: "Even the mosquitoes and flies around me died," said Abu Gharibiyya, a Bedouin from a village some 15km from the spraying last April. Twelve people were subsequently rushed to a medical clinic near Mitzpe Ramon after the third ILA operation.

The burden of proof rests on the Bedouin to evidence land title were they've cultivated-otherwise, it is trespassed State land. This is no small task. If Bedouin landholders are given the opportunity to defend their land claims in court, this is an exceptionally rigorous, and expensive process, and not likely to occur before the State has fumigated crops. If land has not been adjudicated, why is the State using irreversible measures to penalize without proving their case inside a court of law?


What are the implications of spraying cultivated fields with toxic defoliant? When a news article about the ILA planes spraying Bedouin fields with toxic chemicals is sandwiched into a dense page in the newspaper; this policy appears an isolated event. For the scorekeepers that watch ethnic conflict like a sports competition, spraying an estimated 30,000 dunams of food crops at random intervals has no dramatic death tolls; therefore, it has no chance of making headlines. One sprays toxins in gardens to weed out unruly growth. It is becoming increasingly indisputable that this is how the government relates to the Bedouin.

Zionists fear becoming a demographic minority in Israel, this is predicted as early as 2010.[6] Israel is eager to limit the population growth of the Bedouin (which is significantly greater than the Jewish population).[7] The mechanisms Israeli planners and policy makers use to address this fear are familiar both inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories (OT): the aim is to control the maximum amount of land for future Jewish use, and girdle Arabs in the minimum amount of territory. The latter involves breaking up contiguous Arab land holdings with a Jewish presence. It is this mindset that engineers rampant house demolitions, crop destruction, land confiscation, and unequal allocation of resources. It is this mindset that is often overlooked when striving to understand the causal roots of the conflict.

Crop spraying is merely one part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Negev Development Plan to counter the demographic threat in the Negev (where 25% of the population is non-Jewish). The Plan is a comprehensive strategy to relocate some 76,000 Bedouin of the unrecognized villages from their cultivated and inhabited Negev land and condense them into 5 government Planned Townships within a 5-year timeframe. The vacated land will then be converted into new Jewish neighborhoods and dozens of new heavily subsidized single-family farms[8] designed 'to prevent Bedouin encroachment.' The Plan's $250 million budget will fund lawyers to defend state land claims, to run ILA aerial patrols, and to fund police and paramilitary unit operations of the notorious Green Patrol in the destruction of Bedouin crops and homes. There is no viable timeframe/budget for constructing new Bedouin neighborhoods. New Jewish settlements continue to sprout.

Sharon's Plan was formulated without any input by the Bedouin and is not acceptable to their representatives. Although it is toted as a way to adjudicate land disputes between Bedouin and the government, it seems more like just another untimely settlement project.

The Culture of Agriculture is Uprooted

Due to strict land laws; discriminatory water allocation policies; and fierce competition from subsidized ranchers, agri-businesses, and large-scale monoculture farming of the kibbutzim, most Bedouin farmers have been deprived of their productive capacity and moved off their fields - into wage labor. Occasionally, Bedouin still plant fields for sustenance, but their traditional agrarian society has largely been displaced and pauperized. For some villagers, planting is a landholding tactic aimed at resisting land seizure, an active form of protest wherein groves serve as de facto title to the land. This is widely referred to in Arabic as 'sumud' or cleaving to the land, a concept stemming from Torah and often cited today among ultra-nationalist religious settlers. [Since Ottoman times, planting an alienated field is a tactic used to protect land by demonstrating continuous cultivation. All land left uncultivated was traditionally subject to expropriation by government authorities.] For others, planting is an attempt to reclaim some form of economic independence. Once crops are poisoned, plants are killed and food security for many Bedouin families is lost, whereby devastating their already feeble local economy, endangering their health, and the health of Israel's civil society.

Manufacturing an Urban Proletariat "We should transform the Bedouin into an urban proletariat in industry, services, construction and agriculture. 88% of the Israeli population is not farmers, let the Bedouin be like them. Indeed, this will be a radical move, which means that the Bedouin would not live on his land with his herds, but would become an urban person who comes home in the afternoon and puts his slippers on. The children would go to school with their hair properly combed. This would be a revolution, but it may be fixed within two generations. Without coercion but with government direction...this phenomenon of the Bedouins will disappear." --Moshe Dayan, Ha'aretz interview 31/7/63

While the Israeli government is intent on further containing the Bedouin population to transform it into an 'urban proletariat' -- this is against their will. Many shepherds and farmers object to being pushed into cramped Townships--subjected to herding their livestock underneath their apartment, and growing lentils from a window sill on the 3rd floor. Beyond being morally reprehensible for supporters of Israel to justify poisoning food crops or financing a program to dispossess Arab citizens and supplant Jewish settlers and entrepreneurs in their place, such acts are politically untenable--particularly during the heat of the current Intifada, and economically prohibitive in a time of massive welfare cuts and Israel's current budget crisis. This flagrantly discriminatory policy making will have an irreversible impact: Israel will have uprooted a culture and manufactured itself a new urban proletariat.

Unfortunately, indigenous land confiscation by government or corporate interests is a not a new phenomenon occurring to marginalized groups with little or no access to basic resources. But it may be a new phenomenon for Zionists who finance Israel's massive efforts to work the Holy Land and 'make the barren desert bloom' in politically strategic areas that are inhabited, and cultivated.

It has been frequently stated that Israel has enough external problems without making enemies of its own citizens. Policies of toxic aerial spraying, house and mosque demolition, land confiscation, and unequal distribution of resources to Israel's Arab citizens brings into question of the integrity of Israel's democracy. This is not a democratic garden in the dry desert of Middle East dictatorships, it is an ethnocratic government uprooting the connection between non-Jews and 'our Holy Land,' under the rubric of Zionism. Israel can now boast about learning from the Americans how to weed out our gardens of indigenous growth.

If the funds raised for the implementation of the Sharon Plan are redirected into proactive government measures to provide urgently needed health services and education--to counteract disease, poverty, drug abuse, and alienation among Bedouin, a crash may be avoided. Then, the Bedouin minority may eventually be recognized as full Israeli citizens with equal rights--not just our exoticized 'nomads' that serve in the IDF, a fifth column posing a threat to Israel's hegemony over State Lands.

To bolster democracy we should all be aware what the euphemism 'redeeming barren land' involves in the OT and inside Israel--and not just the hostile reaction such politicized policies generate. The impetus is on the public to read between the lines of the short articles on the back pages of the news, and wake-up before the alarm of an internal Intifada instigates serious unrest in the Negev.


*Devorah holds Masters degrees in Israel Studies and Conflict Resolution. An Israeli American, she is the founder and director of Bustan, an environmental justice NGO. She successfully spearheads planting and rebuilding campaigns, forging ties between Jews and Arabs to plant groves, and most recently to eco-build a solar powered medical clinic in Wadi el Na'am, unrecognized village #32, in the Negev.

[1]The Siyag is some 2% of the northern Negev, located between Beer Sheva, Arad and Dimona. Most Recognized Townships and Unrecognized Villages are located inside this reservation.

[2] Statistic extracted from the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages (RCUV), 2003. http://www.arabhra.org/rcuv

[3] Adalah and Bustan estimate 30,000 dunams in total. Interview with Salem Abu Midian. All village and farmer names are available upon request.

[4] Four dunams are equivalent to one acre.

[5] The legality of such operations will be examined in Israel's High Court in the coming months as a coalition of organizations represented by Adalah is prosecuting the ILA.

[6] Professor Sergio Della Pergola, an Israeli demographer as referenced in Jerusalem Report, 10/20/03, p.5. However, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, as of September 2003, Jews account for nearly 77% of the population of Israel.

[7] The Bedouin death rate is also significantly higher than among Jewish citizens.

[8] One of PM Ariel Sharon's more provocative land holdings is such a farm, the 5,000 dunam large Sycamore Farm in the Negev.

Originally published at Bustan.org.il in March 2004

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